Have you ever wondered why some people who appeared healthy suddenly fall down and die? Do you know what causes death during sleep or sudden bouts of anger? What is sudden death and why is it on the increase?
Sudden death is usually due to sudden and unexpected cardiac arrest that occurs in people who otherwise appeared to be in good health.
What might cause sudden death?
Sudden death is most often caused by heart diseases. When blood vessels narrow, the heart muscles can become irritated, because of lack of blood supply. In a heart attack, the blood vessels to the heart can become completely blocked by blood clots, leading to irritability and death of the cardiac muscles and thereby causing irregular beats. This is one of the main reasons many people with chest pain are admitted in the hospital, for a proper check. Sudden death may also be the first pointer that the deceased had been suffering from heart disease.
Other causes of sudden death include congestive cardiac failure. In this situation, the heart failed to pump blood around the body as it should and there could be narrowing of the valves in the aorta, leading to risk of sudden cardiac arrest. In cardiomyopathy (unusual thickening of the heart muscles), the ability of the heart muscles to contract and pump blood around the body is compromised. Cardiomyopathy can occur as a genetic disease, inevitably leading to shortage of blood flow to the heart. Other issues that may cause sudden death include inflammation of the heart muscles, which is known as myocarditis and due to infection or some other connective tissue problems. Some people are born with electrical conducting system which might be faulty and places them at high risk of rhythm disturbances of the heart.
That is why it is important that a child is screened for some syndromes and some congenital abnormalities. Cases of pulmonary embolism, where blood clots in the lung, dislodge and block small arteries of the heart, usually leads to sudden stoppage of the heart and malfunction of the heart muscle, thus leading to heart attack and sudden death.
In most cases during accidents, there could be blunt chest trauma, causing sudden compression of the heart. This is known as cardiac tamponade. This constriction makes the pumping of the heart impossible, leading to sudden death stoppage.
What are the signs and symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest which can cause sudden death?
Cardiac arrest symptoms and signs are not subtle. The heart stops beating, and blood is not supplied to the body. Almost immediately, there is loss of consciousness and the affected person will not be able to be aroused. The person will fall or slump over. When you check the pulse, you cannot feel the pulse and there will be no sign of breathing.
How should we respond to sudden cardiac arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest is a medical emergency, especially of a person without a previous diagnosis. A doctor or an ambulance must be called immediately. What we do is actually a defibrillation through Advanced Cardiac Resuscitation. However, this method is not known to everybody. It is suggested that cardiopulmonary resuscitation education and training be instituted, at the community level.
This is expected to be taught in schools, religious places of worship, motor parks and in every public environment, especially where lots of people are gathered, because a passenger on board a bus, train or aircraft could just have a sudden cardiac arrest. If, luckily, someone with the knowledge of cardiopulmonary resuscitation is readily present, it should be performed there and then. This will help to keep the person alive, while an ambulance is called. If the patient survives, s/he needs to be transported to the hospital for proper evaluation. At the hospital, tests are conducted. In fact, most patients who survive sudden cardiac arrest will need implantable cardiac defibrillator.
How do we prevent sudden cardiac arrest?
There are factors that can put someone and the population at a higher risk of cardiac arrest, leading to sudden death. Someone older than 40, who smokes, with high blood pressure and or diabetes, for instance, has a higher risk. A person with fainting attack is also at a higher risk of having heart disease and needs to be watched carefully. Syncope or sudden loss of consciousness, is a pointer that the person may actually be at risk of sudden cardiac arrest. If you have chest pain on the left side and it radiates to the shoulder, it is important that you are checked for cardiac risks.
The least all of us can do is to take charge and work on our risk factors, have regular medical checkups and be careful not to say “nothing can happen to me”.
Know your risk factors. Obesity, diabetes, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle are high risks for cardiac arrest and sudden death. Please take charge of your health. You are nothing without good health.